Friday 23rd may 2014
Hurrah! At last I have managed to get to the Richard Jefferies museum. It has only taken me the twenty years. One doesn’t have to rush these things does one?
I went up there yesterday to have a chat with Mike Pringle, find out what’s doing there and to have a look round the place with a view to writing this post. I’m so sorry that it’s taken me so long to get there as it’s a delightful place. And it’s also tragic that Jefferies is so sadly neglected, not just here in his home town, but in wider literary circles. Which is not to say that he isn’t known at all – but arguably not as much as perhaps he should be. But never fear! people are working hard to change that situation and to ensure Richard Jefferies’ legacy lives on. Working together with the Richard Jefferies society is a museum trust who are working hard to further his cause.
The RJ society was established in 1950 and has members all over the world and is a registered charity. Chief amongst their objectives is to promote interest in, and respect for, the life and works of the man himself. Like I said, somewhat unknown and unloved in Swindon he may be but he is appreciated elsewhere. However, be that as it may, their website is well worth rooting round.
Anyway, back to the main point of this post and the trust that are now working to spread the RJ gospel and develop the museum.
Aside from the Richard Jefferies society, the trust has 7 other members: Mike Pringle, Hilda Sheehan (of Swindon poetry fame), Rob Slade, Rebecca Welshman, Andrew Dawes of the BBC Natural History unit, Simon Coleman and David Thackray. They formed their gang a few months ago with the wonderfully worthy aim of promoting and developing the museum and to get the man and his work to a wider audience and to make the museum – which is the home in which Jefferies grew up – a sought-after visitor destination that Swindon can be proud of.
One of the ways in which they want to do this is buy putting on events that pay homage to those things that Jefferies cared about but not by fossilising his work. Instead they want to apply it and make it relevant to modern life.
So what do we know about RJ? Well as it says on the trust’s website: Jefferies was ‘a prolific nature writer who lived between 1848 and 1887. Jefferies produced a huge array of work, including detailed accounts of his beloved countryside; children’s books (later illustrated by Winnie-the-Pooh artist E. H Shepard); articles for local and national press; and even post-apocalyptic fiction.’
Now I can’t lie. I only recently discovered that some of his work was illustrated by E.H Shepard and was VERY excited about that being a huge fan of that bear of very little brain. And that very fact goes some way to explain what a big-shot of his day Jefferies was – Shepard didn’t, I’m sure, illustrate for just anybody.
Jefferies was a pioneer ecologist who was passionate about the countryside around him. Though it’s fair to say that he didn’t have a bucolic, pastoral. chocolate box view of the countryside. He saw and understood the harsh realities of country life and the ‘tentative and often destructive relationship between humans and the natural environment.’
But as well as wanting to develop the museum into a top Swindon attraction the trust want to make it a fun place to visit. To that end one of the things they want to do is put on cream teas in the bijou tea room and garden during the summer months. So if you think you could help with that, or in any other way at all, they would love to hear from you. Help is required with archiving and referencing, gardening and building maintenance amongst other things. To contact someone if you want to offer your services:
Telephone: 01793 495645 or 07768 917466
The Richard Jefferies Museum on Facebook – become an FB friend of the museum at facebook.com/jefferiesmuseum and keep up to date with events and discussions.
Richard Jefferies on Twitter – follow Jefferies on Twitter – @Jefferiesauthor – with tweets by Museum Trustee, Rebecca Welshman.
And there’s loads more information on the website.
Here’s a gallery of photos from the museum most of which I’ve managed to make a mess of. I’m uniquely gifted at that for sure…
Opening times at the museum are currently limited though it’s hoped one day to change that:
The Richard Jefferies Museum is owned by Swindon Borough Council and maintained, primarily by the Richard Jefferies Museum Trust and the Richard Jefferies Society, as a museum dedicated to Jefferies.
Opening times: the museum is open on the second Wednesday of each month from 10am-4pm; and, from May to September, it is also open on every Sunday between 2 and 5pm. We are often able to accommodate special requests to visit at other times – simply contact us.
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